SILVER CIRCLE REVIEWS: December 2007

A.K.A.C.O.D.
Happiness
12-song CD
If ya didn’t know, these folks were friends and fans (and in one case, a member) of Morphine. If you miss hearing new music from them, this’ll fix it. I like both, but you know what they say: one person’s influence is another’s plagiarism. Detractors will call it flat-out robbery or worse, and they have their point. The approach is identical, right down to the moaning baritone sax and two-string slide bass, and the same adjectives still apply: sparse, lonesome, smoky, sensuous. It’s perfect for 3:00 am, even (especially?) if you’re sober. The only real difference, albeit a nice big one, is that the vocals here are by Monique Ortiz, most recently of Bourbon Princess, who may be all done (their site remains, but mainly plugs this act now). My only gripes are pretty paltry (as usual): Fleetwood Mac’s lovely “Hypnotized” doesn’t quite lend itself to the dark treatment here, and the song loses all its swing and swoopiness. And the lead-off track sounds like a less-upset Diamanda Galas singing over first-album Black Sabbath, and a for a little too long. Not a huge deal, but not really indicative of what’s to follow, either. As the heaviest number here by far, it woulda worked much better as the closer, but hey. It’d be nice if that was the worst I could say about most things. (Joe Coughlin)

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DEATH AND TAXES
I Scream Records
Tattooed Hearts & Broken Promises
10-song CD
This one would make my year-end best-of list even if all that was on it was the songwriting clinic of “Green River,” a haunting, but subtly performed, tale of a young woman’s rape and murder. Singer/guitarist Jeff Morris wisely tells the story in a calm, collected manner that allows the words to speak for themselves, and there’s a grace and beauty to each instrumental part that makes the whole thing even more chilling. While death is a constant presence throughout the record, it’s hardly a downer. The survivor’s tale “All These Things” has a killer pop hook, and the tongue-in-cheek “For the Money” is quite humorous. This is an extremely versatile band, able to dip its toes in punk, roots rock, rockabilly and country while maintaining a sound that is true to itself. In addition, the production on the record is outstanding; it maintains a live feel, while allowing each part to stand out in the mix. (Kevin Finn)

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ERICH GROAT
Found Missing Volume 2: 1998-2006
12-song CD
At its best, this collection offers a cure for inanity by providing fast comfort for normal sorrow; it tumbles down like falling sugar for bitter, deluded apes. “Adam Will” and “Full Spectrum Dominance” are sloe-eyed Savage Republic-like sagas; “Well Fed Head” is a churning technological nightmare incantation; “Jimmers and Quince” an ominous, mind-manifesting pastoral; “Fucked Up,” a philosophical, quietly terrifying, folk-jangling, culture-jamming charm and talisman. It doesn’t stop there: we also get “Chicken Out,” another tuneful and wise acoustic roundelay; the epically sinuous and winding instrumental “K2”; the mimetically chundering and sputtering “Roll the Ocean” and, best, the ineffably sad but lovely circular acousticism of the two-stage lament “Bombed Out.” Bonus: The eerie musical setting for the Edward Lear nonsense verse “The Owl and the Pussycat.” If poets are priests, and novelists are anthropologists, and playwrights are sociologists, and humorists are psychologists, then songwriters are mathematicians with a touch of the poet. That is why they can rip at our souls. Like painters they are eccentrics. Like actors they are solipsists. Yet the best performing songwriters also keep our present faith and pass it down. Seldom with more clarity than on this Baby Ray solo project. (Francis DiMenno)

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RUDE TOYS
Rude Toy Records
Feel No Guilt
13-song CD
Smart, snappy rock alternative tones emanate from Rude Toys. Vocally fronted by singer Tammy Schatz (I know her cousin Elmo), this quartet appeals to the finer side of rock chemistry. While her pitch is pretty damn good, one wishes for a bit more confidence in her delivery. That opinion out of the way, I could cite a few female singers she evokes, including Natalie Merchant and Madonna. However, the singer whom she most sounds like is Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes fame. Remember them? They had a great album in 1993 that personifies the American alternative vibe, and Rude Toys seems to have realized what a great overall sound it is. The band is great, consisting of Mike Myles on guitar, CJ Cunningham on bass, and Martin Lewis on drums. There are nice selections of guest musicians, acoustic tracks, and instrumental jams. Rude Toys would be a fun thing to play with at your next party. (Mike Loce)

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ROTARY CLUB
Woodside Records
Vis-à-vis
12-song CD
Given that in music, as in art criticism, critics assess (somewhat unfortunately) via pedigrees, I’m virtually obliged to mention here that this collection is produced and features bass by Tony Maimone, formerly of Pere Ubu, and features Tom Devaney (ex-Bulkhead and Betwixt), as well as additional personnel from Betwixt, and from Count Zero. Does it sound like you’d expect? No: Bulkhead fans probably wouldn’t anticipate the intensely imaginative melodicism and dazed, yelping Americana on display here. Mostly because so many of these songs feature a type of creamy weirdness combined with an arch rootsiness—compare “Manager In Here” with something like “Open the Door, Homer” on the Basement Tapes and you’ll have some reference for pinning down the sound, which is playful, yet tunefully fragile and often melodically halting in a strangely seductive way, as on “Bounty.” The musicianship—this I was expecting—is brilliant. Arrangements and textures are superlative. Nor are hooks neglected out of avant-garde bullheadedness: “Literate Shoes” sounds like a psychedelicized version of Dire Straits; the title track channels “Marie’s the Name” and The Soft Boys, maybe. But mere comparisons simply don’t, can’t, won’t do this justice. Believe me: this belongs on every new music-lovers must-have list. (Francis DiMenno)

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THE BREW
The Key
9-song CD
The one and only band that comes to mind while listening to The Brew is Vermont’s jammy Strangefolk. I happen to love Strangefolk, even when they get all long-winded and, er, jammy. It’s a point in The Brew’s favor that they strip away most of the wankery and focus on the songs, which are damn fine (although they throw down the jam-gauntlet pretty hard on the song “Hunter’s Moon”). Problem here is pacing—damn near every song is slow to mid-tempo. What we have here are very pleasant songs—well-constructed, impeccably played, and all that—but they’re not really danceable, they don’t make good driving music, they’re really just good to listen to while you’re doing something else, or (I’m guessing here) if you’re baked and have the headphones on. Then there’s the final track, “Radio Swiss,” the only real up-tempo number here, which features some absolutely blazing guitar work and leans closer to Moe territory (that’s a compliment, in case you were unsure). An album full of tracks like this would have me a Brewhead for life. (Tim Emswiler)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Moulty Records
Boston Underground 1979-1982
20-song CD
Like wow! Time travel is possible! Slip this disc of singles and rarities into my CD player and I’m back in this short-lived, tiny L-shaped club from the early ’80s, The Underground, enjoying a particular brand of angular rock with post-punk overtones and quirky, herky-jerky rhythms and melodies. (A lot of more straight-ahead top pop outfits also played there: Lyres, Outlets, Boy’s Life, Pastiche, Mighty Ions, etc. —not to mention The Jam and The Cure!)
So many great memories and memories dancin’, slurpin’, moshin’, twerpin’ to the magnificent Art Yard (represented with four cuts, including “The Law” and “60 Cycle Hum”) who were a direct offshoot of The Maps, who created one of Boston’s classic singles included here, “I’m Talking to You.” Also on board are Native Tongue (whom I thought to be a junior version of Mission of Burma) and Lori Green (Dangerous Birds)—clearly some of the pioneering females in this locale. There’s also a rare instrumental track from The Young Snakes (early Aimee Mann) taken from a Metrowave show circa ’81. And I must say, I somehow missed The Insteps, (represented by nine tracks!) who are marginally talented. I would have gladly traded some of their tracks for more variety, perhaps from the likes of Wild Stares, CCCP-TV, or the 1981 Rumble winners, Someone & the Somebodies. Guess we’ll have to wait for Volume 2. (Harry C. Tuniese)

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REIGN OF PESTILENCE
The Birth of Failure
11-song CD
The first track on this album is called, “Die Already Michael Jackson.” Wow, I like this band already. I’d classify them as some kind of mix of regular metal and death metal, but the vocals are understandable and the guitar lines are really good. Plus the songs aren’t superfluously fast-paced like other death metal songs I’ve had the misfortune of hearing. The fourth track, “One-Eyed Willy’s Treasure,” is a great guitar-driven song with a killer breakdown that I imagine would incite all kinds of mosh pit mayhem if/when it’s played live. I’m pretty impressed that I not only don’t hate this band, but I actually kind of like it. Kudos to Reign of Pestilence, because they’re the first death metal band that I’ve ever found to be listenable. (Emsterly)

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PENDING DISAPPOINTMENT
Midriff Records
New York Penn, NY
11-song CD
The better parts of this record remind me of the late great Read Yellow. It’s got the same manic energy, the same passion, the same distorted and shouted vocals and the same knack for concocting hooks that find a way to cut above all that noise. Now, I’m not saying Pending Disappointment is as good as Read Yellow, but they have the potential. They just need to work on their weaknesses. First off, they need to cut out the slower, mellower songs that rely on actual singing. Greg Lyon is a good shouter, but he’s a pretty lousy singer. Second, the lyrics need work. Lines like “It’s time to come up for air / Stop sucking your own dick” should have been scrapped long before it was time to hit the studio. There is a lot to like here, though, so hopefully the band plays to its strengths going forward. (Kevin Finn)

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PALARIS
Blue Duck Records
The Pros and Cons of Redemption
10-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here from sunny California. I’ve been relocated here by my superiors, the owners of the ice cream truck I drive. Now my winters will not be spent in subfreezing temperatures dispensing my tasty milk-derived treats. First of all, this is impeccably produced pop rock performed and sung excellently. Usually such accolades are followed by how much I am displeased with such CD, and how the usual CD is as interesting as reading one of Slimedog’s reviews. But aha! This is not the case. There are bits of grit and dissonance thrown in here and there. And whatever anyone’s personal political views on ice cream are they should give this very professional CD a try. Fans of ’80s power pop and Elvis Costello might find some fun here. (Slimedog)

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PONDERING JUDD
Coalesce
10-song CD
Pondering Judd definitely isn’t the type of music I’d listen to on my own time, but I’m willing to concede that it is pretty good for what it is. The music itself is an interesting conglomerate of rock, country, and folk. The first thing that struck me about the songs was that they each tell a somewhat poignant, albeit clichéd, story. This would be good if the stories didn’t make me feel like the band was trying to push a moral agenda on me. For example, the song “Hornet’s Nest” is about throwing a firecracker into a hornet’s nest and then feeling bad about it afterwards. It’s like an episode of Davey and Goliath, but more annoying (and no cute clay figures). However I think the song “Sunday” deserves a mention; it definitely stands out over the other songs on the album, and I bet it’d sound great live. Overall, lyrics notwithstanding, this album is pretty good, and if you’re into Americana rock with a country twang to it, you should check out Pondering Judd. (Emsterly)

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CHEATER PINT
Kinger Recordings
Dark Side of the Pint
10-song CD
When the band’s own PR compares the vocals of Cheater Pint’s Lauran O’Neal to the “love it or hate it vocals of Courtney Love,” I am understandably wary. She’s not a bad singer—she just sings in that kind of angry woman singing/yelling way that isn’t really my bag. But opening track, “Follow the Directions,” gives me great hopes with its Pixies-esque verging-on-chaos vibe. But that’s followed up with “Ma I’m Tryin’,” which is just too poppy for my taste. Overall, the album is pretty consistent straightforward rock with enough pop sensibility to keep it listener-friendly to a wider audience, an audience that I will be the first to admit I am not a part of. And almost every song is set off by some guitar wizardry from Mark Simon. The stone-solid bass of Meaghan McLaughlin anchors everything nicely. While I may never listen to this again, I’m willing to bet that this will please enough ears that the band won’t give a flying fuck what I think of it. (Tim Emswiler)

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PYOTR
Hooked On Moneks Music
Pyotr Surrenders To Space
10-songs
Is it wrong to say that the emo crowd needs a new band? I think that Pyotr in their lighter moments sounds like some Nine Inch Nails “mellow” track. The project (“band” is a stretch on this one) consists of John Greene and Chris Brown, both of whom I know nothing but would be very interested in the drugs they’re taking. In terms of instrument duties, both lads do a Ween thing, little bit of this, little bit of that, some kind bud, some recording, some jerking off, some poetry, some parental angst, some more of this and that… and POOF! An album happens. Actually these guys are quite good and on the cutting edge… I received a limited press CD and they know CDs are on their way out; in the liner notes they plead with the listener to rip the music into an Mp3 player. That’s foresight. Good luck to them, I think all art is about crossing boundaries. (Mike Loce)

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OTIS GROVE
Crank It Up
8-song CD
From their sites: “They have created a unique sound that can only be described as if jazz organist Jimmy Smith was a member of Led Zeppelin.”
Er, NO. Although they do have an organist (and a drummer and guitarist, bass comes from the keys). They also cite influences from A Tribe Called Quest to James Brown. Jimmy Smith didn’t play with them either, that I’m aware of, but he did do a James Brown cover.
Also from sites: “One fan put it best: ‘Otis Grove, simply put, is slammin’. The amount of energy that enters a room when these three guys get together for a session will make you sweat. The music reaches yours ears, invigorates your mind, shakes your booty, and then leaves your body through every limb. Always funky, it’s genuine feel-good music at its best.’ ”
Well, the fan’s name and other preferences are curiously left out, or I’d have some more questions. Anyway, this is completely non-Zeppelinesque jazz-rock instro which veers a little too close to background music. (Maybe a better album title woulda been “Louder Than Lounge.”) I did kinda like “Buckfush,” but only because it sounds so much like Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” and the guitarist finally gets to go apeshit. Otherwise, if you settle for technical chops over memorable hooks, you’ll be happy. (Joe Coughlin)

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ANDREA PAQUIN
Magpie Records
Listen
11-song CD
Holy Lilith Fair. I’m thirty seconds into the album’s opening track, “End of Me,” and my head is already flooded with thoughts of Sarah McLaughlin, Amy Mann, and Natalie Merchant among others.
Am I stereotyping? Not really. Much of Listen is entrenched in the mold of many a ’90s female adult alternative rocker in the vein of Jewel, Sheryl Crow, and most notably Melissa Ethridge, with whom Paquin shares a noticeably similar vocal delivery.
Sweet and subtle, Listen is undoubtedly a peaceful, lilting and sometimes, as in the case of “Over My Shoulder,” psychedelic trippy piece of lighthearted mood music. Paquin throws a nice curveball in the middle of the record with “Leader,” a souped up rocker in which the singer goes all Juliana Hatfield on us. But for the most part, fans of the folk rock variety should find this a good, uh, well, listen. (Ryan Bray)

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SHAWN WATERS & GROUP THINK
Songs for You
10-song CD
When I first put this on I’m thinking Tom Waits in the vocals before I even read the liner notes. But then I’m thinking that’s an influence I like to hear. And in those very entertaining liner notes there’s talk of rap and hip hop but this is mostly a grungy, hazy mix that draws more on blues, prog rock, and reggae with classic keyboard/organ sounds dominating. Though I like the style of the band, the songs are hit or miss. When they do hit though, they’re usually home runs. My high scores go to “An Orange Room With No Ceiling and Sky,” a moody but cheerful take on suicide that makes me fondly recall The Stranglers. “My Secret Wife” manages to be waltzy without being in time and causes me to tango out into the flowerbed in my striped pajamas. They close Songs For You nicely with the intense “A Flower’s Funeral.” These guys show promise. (Slimedog)

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SLOW MOTION DRIVER
Liquid
9-song CD
Slow Motion Driver, as a band, is somewhat of a tough band to peg and characterize. But after listening to their latest release, Liquid, it turns out they’re not really worth investing the time into to figure out.
The band’s sound can best be described as proggy piano driven guitar rock that openly welcomes comparisons to Live, particularly with respect to pianist/ vocalist Brent Barlow’s soaring vocals. And while there’s individual talent to be found within the ranks of Slow Motion Driver, from Bill Anderson’s technically accomplished drum work to Barlow’s aforementioned vocal style, the sum doesn’t live up to its individual parts, which results in a middle of the road rock band with an odd flair for adult contemporary. The opening of “Serenity” is enough to make one wonder what Bruce Hornsby John Hiatt would have been like if they went more of a rock ’n’ roll route, a scary thought that’s even scarier when listened to. (Ryan Bray)

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WITCH TOMB
Mocking Jehovah
13-song CD
So here’s the thing about this band: I’m pretty sure they’re what one would call death metal (although I never was quite clear on all the nuances that differentiate death metal, black metal, etc.), and I’ve never really understood the point of death metal, but not wanting to go the same route as Mrs. Slimedog, I’m going to give my best shot at being objective here. What I hear when I listen to this album is lots of double bass drums, vocals that sound like a cross between screaming and puking, and guitar lines that remind me a little of my favorite hardcore bands. There are some pretty impressive song titles too, such as “Holy Mother of Shit,” “Whore Angel,” “Raping Sacred Flesh,” and “Carved-up Christ.” Cool! I’d definitely recommend this CD to rebellious teenagers who want to horrify their parents. The best thing I can say about this album is that if I were a fan of death metal, I’d probably love this band. (Emsterly)

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BY BLOOD ALONE

Jericho Hill Road
Seas of Blood
8-song CD
I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover, but some bands just welcome that rush to judgment mentality. Just on looks alone it was evident that there were two directions Seas of Blood, the latest offering from synth-driven metalheads By Blood Alone, could have run in: skull crushing hardcore or soaring, epic metal a la Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
Just my luck—the band had to go with the latter. I’ve never held back in voicing my complete disdain for metal, but I’ve long welcomed any band to lure me over to the dark side. Unfortunately, Seas of Blood does nothing to offset my bias against the genre. There’s nothing original going on here, as the band stays the well-traveled course long since laid by the likes of Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio. Blah. (Ryan Bray)

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JUSTIN SHOREY
Justin Shorey
12-song CD
Hi, music reviewer extraordinaire Mrs. Slimedog, again. This CD starts out with a guy singing in a high voice like those Southern guys like on The Beverly Hillbillies or some show like that. It’s just Justin strumming a banjo or guitar or mandolin or something. It’s gentle and peaceful music but Slimedog is eyeing the CD player menacingly with a chainsaw in his hands. This isn’t country music, I guess, it’s called “fork music” which I don’t understand as there’s not much music to sink your teeth into here. I would rather dance, dance, dance to Shakira than listen to this. Slimedog’s telling me it sounds like Pete Seeger or somebody from the ’60s. I think he is confused and means Bob Seger but then it really doesn’t sound anything like him. I like this! This is kind of cheerful, so if you’re up in the dumps this just might pick you down. Until next time, just dance, dance, dance to Shakira. With her you can go right. (Mrs. Slimedog)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS

Heavy Rotation Records
Dorm Sessions Volume 4
19-song compilation
Once again, beware of records that open with commercials for themselves. Worse, when they outro with a track that tells you the record’s over now. Thanks, guys—no way I coulda figured that out myself. Two cuts each by several apparently prominent locals (Thick As Thieves, Big D & The Kid’s Table, Kid:Nap:Kin, and more). I say apparently, because I’ve heard the names for while now and, based on what I’d gleaned prior, I was shocked at how uniformly HARD they’re all straining to fit into some cut-and-dried alt-rock demographic, to the point that it could almost all be the same band. It’s that over-emoted, over-arranged, not-really-about-anything stuff that underage girls cream themselves over, but I guess it’s flying in the clubs too. It only hits me as variations of Nickelback on a caffeine bender, and I’m happy to discuss. Interesting note: the label’s outta Berklee, and they make a point to mention all the bigger labels the students went on to work for. In other words, strictly business, folks. (Joe Coughlin)

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HATS AND GLASSES

Teenage Disco Bloodbath Records/Bodies of Water Arts and Crafts
Hats And Glasses
6-song CD
This is a surprisingly poppy, jangly record coming from such an eclectic label. Hats And Glasses cross many musical boundaries of pop. At once their sound is bright and poppy, like The Monkees after a bender, then in the next moment their scope changes to Flaming Lips proportions and sometimes channel Donovan, early Bowie, and 10CC in the same song. I wish more bands had such a broad range of styles. Hats And Glasses are the first band I’ve heard in a long time whose sound is as oblique as it is straightforward. Experience the contradiction for yourself. This EP will turn your sensibilities on its ear. (Joel Simches)

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DRIVE LIKE CARSON
Drive Like Carson
5-song CD
This is driving indie pop at its best. Lush harmonies, great hooks and musicianship abound with a sound that is fresh and immediate. With over 300 shows under their belt, it’s hard to believe that the band’s only been around for a year, their drummer has an endorsement deal and their singer is 17. This band is bursting with energy and a completely unique sound and sensibility. You’d have to be braindead, tone-deaf, and completely cynical to not love this at first listen. (Joel Simches)

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JASON BENNETT & THE RESISTANCE
Teenage Heart
Hope Dies Last
5-song CD
Owing much to hard rocking bands like Social Distortion with a clever early British punk lyrical twist, Jason Bennett & the Resistance come on strong with a heavy message of social relevance and desire to change the status quo. Their new world order is heavily punctuated with tight drumming, huge guitars and gang vocals. The thickness of the gang of vocals and guitars sometimes obscures the main vocal, you know, the guy spreading the message. Their power chord angst will take you back to a time where you could change the world with a good rock tune. Hopefully these guys can achieve that. (Joel Simches)

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MAKE DO & MEND

Restless Minds Records
We’re All Just Living
6-song CD
This record is a long nineteen minutes. I find it hard to believe that anyone other than an inarticulate sixteen-year-old with a broken heart would find any value in this, and that’s only if that sixteen-year-old had never been introduced to sensitive punk that was actually good, like Hüsker Dü or even the teenage Green Day records. The emo vocals are nails on a chalkboard, and the lyrics are laughably trite. It gets even worse when the band refers to Elvis Costello’s “Alison” in the chorus of “Staring Problem”, which comes off as an empty attempt at coolness by association. The boys do have a lot of energy; I will give them that. But that will only carry you so far. It’s too bad so many used CD stores are going under, as it’s going to make it harder for me to get my twenty-five cents for this thing. (Kevin Finn)

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THE MEDVEDS
Pill Party Press
The Medveds
5-song CD
The Medveds are still alive and kicking and still a load of fun to listen to. Taken from a live radio broadcast and from their last show, circa 2000, The Medveds showcase some of their best moments and it’s totally clear that they’re having as much fun as they are to listen to. If there was ever a need for a band like The Medveds, that time is now and this little nugget of previously unavailable unrecorded gems proves as much. With songs like “The Cunty Boys” and “Young, Deaf and Gay,” what’s not to love? Does anybody masturbate to them? Who’s to say? Do check out this disc. (Joel Simches)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Fear the Dead Records
Fear the Dead-Halloween 2007
24-song CD
With only five New England bands on this compilation, there’s not much to get excited about on this straight ahead compilation of three chord garage/punk bands crooning about graveyards, monsters, and ghouls (oh my). Most songs start with a couple of obligatory soundbites from B-movies then launch straight into punk mediocrity. This compilation captures the cold fright of Halloween like a weekend at Spookyworld. I’ve coughed up scarier shit. This compilation doesn’t make me fear the dead. It makes me envy them. (Joel Simches)

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BOSTON CHRISTMAS DISCS

NRBQ

Clang!
Christmas Wish—Deluxe Edition
19-song CD
As proud owner of the band’s self-titled 1969 Columbia debut, I’m well aware of how much irreverent fun NRBQ can summon up, and as a big fan of such, I was all over this release like white on rice. It’s essentially a CD version of their 1986 Mini-LP on Rounder, and the tracks from the original album are the strongest: picture Brian Wilson producing and arranging Randy Newman and you get a bit of their flavor. This update has ten new live and studio sides attached. Some are snippets, and other full-blown, um, versions—like, dig the instrumental take of “Christmas Wish” and the twisted cover of that good ole Charlie Brown Xmas fave, and the anomic scorching of poor old Mel Torme’s “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Who will this record bug? Superannuated grandfolk who expect croony goop to continually exude from their creaky hi-fis come Yuletide. Headbangers, goths, and sick babies who instinctively fear anything with whimsical texture and/or jazzy chops. Gloomy fundamentalists who are convinced that anything mostly secular is a Mephistophelean passport to hellfire. Who will it delight? Nearly everybody else in the world, I would hope. (Francis DiMenno)

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THE WEISSTRONAUTS
StereOrrific
I’m Dreaming of The Weisstronauts’ Christmas
5 songs
Pete Weiss rounds up the cowboys (and gals), takes ’em surfin’ in December, and ends up with this rightly styled circle o’ plastic, just the right size for a Christmas present. Light a fire and kick back to the surf-country feel of “Jingle Bells.” If you want to get up for some swing dancin’, try “Nuthin’ Comin’ Good This Christmas.” But if that tuckers you out, kick off yer spurs and lie back down in front of the fire for “Silent Night, ” and make note of what those children want for Christmas. Remind them what the holiday is really about—“Sweet Baby Jesus”—a tune with a nice ’60s pop progression (like the Beatles’ “Eight Days A Week”) that breaks down into a rambling vocal jam and ends with sweet harmonies. We go live into a club for the final holiday party, where Mel Weiss remembers to put the Santa back in Christmas (“Santa Baby”). So who is the real baby of Christmas—Jesus or Santa? And can you really hang 10 if you’ve got cowboy boots on? This disc won’t help you decide—but when you hear someone yell “surf’s up” in December, remove yer spurs… and sing along. (T Max)

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BLEU (with many guests)

Maid
Bing Bang Holidang
10 songs
In 1999 Bleu put together an entire 10-song Christmas album featuring reinvented standards along with a handful of original seasonal tunes. Packed with an impressive cast of Boston-bred celebrity cameos (Dicky Barrett, Bill Janovitz, Kay Hanley, Jason Kendall, Mary Lou Lord, Jed Parish, and Ramona Silver, to name a few), Bleu has managed to produce a record as musically diverse as it is timely. He combines a stylistic range reminiscent of Beck with the kitsch of sugar-voiced crooner Bing Crosby. Bleu is also adept with modern dance beats and production in his version of “Jingle Bells” that combines an Andrews Sisters vocal sample with house beats. “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” features most of the record’s cameos. Each guest singer interprets his or her “day” over music representing their band’s style. My choice for the hit on this record is Bleu’s “Snow Day”—an up-tempo pop song with a big hook and a chorus of a mob of screaming kids. (Danimal)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS

Sonic Trout
Another Christmas Gift For You
21 songs
As someone who hates Christmas, and REALLY hates Christmas music, this is a perversely enjoyable surprise. Sonic Trout are label-hosts mainly to Chandler Travis Philharmonic and The Incredible Casuals, but many a furry friend and oddball offshoot are featured here to stellar effect. The main reasons it works so well are, a) the songs which DO mention Christmas are great enough on their own that the context is completely negligible, whereas b) the unavoidably thematic ones are so charmingly fucked that you could never, say, play them at the office holiday party without getting fired (Rikki & Johnny’s cordially alien “Sleigh Ride,” among others). In these instances alone, you’re getting significantly toasted entertainment which never condescends, yet which works beautifully if you ever got the actual seasonal itch for some reason, and yet AGAIN, would sound great any time o’ year regardless. How many NON-Christmas records can you say all that about? And yet, aside from some masterful power-pop, there are drippingly surreal jazz warps, perfectly lovely little choral treatments, waltzes with accordions, and a number of things no one’s ever tried before. My only beef is the three minutes of silence two-thirds in for no good reason. Otherwise, a swell thing that’ll sound just as good in July, which I guess makes it a pretty good Christmas present after all. (Joe Coughlin)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS

Q Division Records
Viva Noel—A Q Division Christmas
15-song CD
Q Division released Viva Noel—A Q Division Christmas in 1999. It was their first foray into the world of compilations. On the first track Jen Trynin gracefully tackles the old chestnut, “The Christmas Song” and adds a new edge to the song. There’s longing in Merrie Amsterburg’s voice in “2000 Miles” when she sings, “The snow is falling down/ It’s colder day by day/ I miss you/ I can hear people singing/ It must be Christmas time.” The Gentlemen cover the Elvis staple, “Blue Christmas,” with Mike Gent doing a sarcastic deadpan vocal take. Singer Brian Stevens (Cavedogs) gifts us “The Christmas Waltz/ Tinsel (Medley)” that recalls a night of spiked eggnog and embarrassing dance moves. The Sheila Divine picks up steam with a smooth version of “O Holy Night.” Aimee Mann performs the second version of “The Christmas Song” but this one has a nice jazz feel. The Gravel Pit playfully cover “Marshmallow World,” a Phil Spector-era nugget with a great big kick and spin! The CD closes with The Gravy contributing easily the strangest addition with “Mele Kalikimaka.” Lead singer Todd Spahr goes into his alter ego, Fatty Pineapple, for an eccentric version of “The Hawaiian Christmas Song.” This CD is another quality release from Q Division Records and an important addition to your holiday record collection. (Simon Cantlon)

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